"Life is full of twists and turns"
“Life is full of twists and turns,” shares Elias Drake, “and it’s very likely that it will not go the way you think it’s going to go.”
Drake has experienced this sentiment firsthand.
The St. Cloud native pursued a psychology major in CLA with aspirations of becoming a physician. But along the way, he discovered an unexpected love for research—a realization that would shape his undergraduate journey and career path.
Today, he serves physicians (and researchers and clinicians) as the chief operations officer for Superior Medical Experts, a medical editing company based out of St. Paul, Minnesota.
“I wear a few different hats, managing the organization’s operations, HR, and finances. Ultimately we work to help various physicians and smaller medical businesses get their manuscripts to journals and their grant requests to places like the National Institutes of Health,” says Drake. “I feel very proud to be a part of the research and medical expansion space.”
As a recipient of the Jeffrey C. & Sarah M. Zutz Scholarship in Liberal Arts, Drake’s journey was also shaped by generous support. Here, Drake reflects on his time in CLA, his favorite class (it might surprise you), and the long-lasting impact of his scholarship funding.
Why did you choose psychology?
I found it the most interesting. There is a lot we don’t know about the brain, it’s very complex, and I knew that the University’s program was one of the best in the nation.
Looking back at your time in CLA, what are you most proud of and why?
One of the things I still look back on very fondly is the research I did for my honors thesis. Professor Jonathan Gewirtz did some really fascinating research in his animal research lab. At the time, he was researching morphine addiction in a rat. I learned so many unique and interesting techniques.
I remember being interested in animal models, and in the class that walks you through your honors thesis, then-grad student, now-Professor Mari Gades, came into the class to talk about the work she was doing. A position opened up in the lab, and from there, you basically form your thesis around the research that you’re helping with. The professor and other students will help teach you what to focus on, and what things you can’t focus on. It was helpful in connecting me to research that I was interested in.
My honors thesis was about morphine addiction in rats; I worked on a “factor analysis of morphine self administration in rats.” It took a lot of long weekends and was very difficult, but I’m proud of that.
What was your favorite class?
That’s an easy answer: skiing. I took a one-credit downhill skiing course and loved every second. I would go to Highland Hills over in Bloomington and I just fell in love with the sport. I live in Montana now, and that class was part of the reason I got into skiing. There was a lot of carpooling for students who had cars!
I remember being evaluated on a couple tiers; as a beginner, could you do a hockey stop? Make sure you know how to apply enough pressure? And then the final evaluation covered safety and everything that you had learned. Currently I ski in Solitude on the Wasatch Mountains [30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City]. There are a lot of places that I love, including Lutsen. When I go home for Christmas, me and some friends will try to get up there.
What advice would you give to current CLA students?
A couple of things, I would say, take a class (like skiing!) that seems exciting and that you know nothing about if you can fit into your credit load. There’s a wealth of classes in CLA, it was very worth it to take on extra classes. College is a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety and worrying about the future, so it’s important to have some fun with it.
I would also say, be open to change in the direction you’re going. I’m doing very different things now than I had originally planned on doing, but I’m significantly happier and have a significantly larger impact doing what I’m doing now than I would have had I gone to med school. Life is full of a lot of twists and turns, and it is very likely it will not go the way you think it’s going to go. Being open to change is pretty important as you go through your college career.
Lastly, make good connections in college. The connections that I made are pretty long-standing and I’m eternally grateful for that.
What was the impact of the Jeffrey C. and Sarah M. Zutz Scholarship in Liberal Arts? How did it influence your time in CLA and beyond?
On my own, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to afford college, so I think part of what attracted me to the U was the wealth of scholarships that were available.
The Zutz Scholarship truly allowed me to go to college. There was a period of time when I was searching for scholarships, before I learned that I had received the scholarship, that I believed I wouldn’t be able to attend. It paved the way for me to have a college experience. And as I mentioned with the connections I made, it paved the way for the position I have now. The research and writing that I was doing landed me a job doing medical writing for the company work for now, and eventually, I grew into a higher role over time. It truly shaped my career and ability to do what I’m doing today.
Meet Sarah and Jeff Zutz
CLA alumni Sarah and Jeff Zutz met at the campus’ Lutheran Student Center in the late-1970s. Jeff was playing the guitar, Sarah was singing, and the rest–according to the couple–was history. Two fulfilling careers and three children later, the Zutz family has embarked on an incredible philanthropic mission: giving back to their alma mater and providing life-changing opportunities for alumni like Elias Drake.
On their time in CLA
Sarah: As a Wisconsin native, the tuition reciprocity agreement allowed me to attend U of M for in-state tuition, after transferring from Univ of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. After exploring a variety of courses across CLA, I was drawn to the field of Economics and the excellence of the renowned economists who were my professors. With a BA and BS in Economics, the mix of social science, math, theory and practical application provided a strong foundation for future work opportunities.
Jeff: CLA gave me an incredible exposure to ideas, concepts and critical thinking; being from a small town in Wisconsin, my exposure to such was limited. My experiences gave me a broader world view. The campus itself and Twin Cities were also a rich environment, with opportunities to experience and explore, I came to realize that not all learning happens in the classroom.
On how a liberal arts education prepared them for their careers
Jeff: A liberal arts education gave me a sound foundation as I explored my career goals in Architecture. It challenged me and at the same time enriched my view on a wide variety topic and subjects. The field of architecture is much more than the initial building design. CLA prepared me to deal with a range of challenges that I am faced with in leading a firm, from financial to personnel issues.
Sarah: Relationships are key to success in life – both personal and business, which requires the ability to listen, collaborate and connect with others. CLA sets students up for success by engaging students to think for themselves, as well as to work with others and to communicate clearly both in written and oral formats. As a systems analyst implementing medical software, all of the skills were critical to a successful career – listening to clients and interpreting and understanding their needs, running meetings, identifying priorities, problem solving and maintaining strong relationships. CLA set me up for success!
Sarah and Jeff: We observed the impact of college on our own children, building maturity and opening horizons for them in various fields, growing them to adulthood and financial independence. Not all students have the opportunity to pursue a college experience and we want to make this a possibility for underrepresented students who are motivated to pursue a four year college degree. Giving back is important for the future.